La plume de ma cygne

by Scribble Monboddo

Here's something fun to do while out on your prescribed daily exercise: collect a feather or two. Because then you can make a quill!

Why bother? Well, it's a creative pass-time for a start - but better still, if you've ever seen historic hand-written letters from days of yore in the British Library or similar, handling the same sort of writing equipment provides an insight into the conditions in which mediaeval scribes had to work. When this much effort goes into securing the means to write, one chooses words with care.

My experiment started with a walk past some mediaeval fish-ponds, built to feed the inhabitants of a nearby monastery - which is long since demolished, but must have had a scriptorium. No swans were harmed in the making of this blog, but one had helpfully shed a few feathers while grooming and the obvious thought came to mind: how hard can it be?

Really quite tricky, if I'm honest. It took no less than four attempts to cut the right diagonal slice and make a short slit for the ink, and not having been trained for the task I'm unashamed of the hash I made of it at first.  In the end, though, I found it was best to write with the nib upside-down, as it appeared to me. That helped to avoid the soft tissue inside the quill dragging on the paper, and that pith also absorbed and slowly released the ink more effectively too. Eventually, I got the hang of writing with it - just as the 'phone rang for a business call, and this was all I had to hand to make notes with. Thank goodness it wasn't a video call!

After a bit of practice, I started to enjoy the soft 'nib' which the quill offered and have even posted an A4 review of the results. I might even write with it some more, when I next want to impress the neighbours. A Rhodia notebook provided an excellent test bed but the feathers, of course, are free. If you're curious, give it a try!